Wynn Hammer, the veteran still photographer who worked behind the scenes on such acclaimed movies as Bound for Glory, The Deer Hunter and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as on dozens of TV shows, has died. He was 97.
Hammer died Sunday of congestive heart failure in a hospice facility in Glendale, his family announced.
A still photographer is hired to take shots on the set for publicity purposes. The best in their field find a way to get close to the action, avoiding light stands and movie cameras, without disrupting the filmmaking process.
Hammer tried to bring a documentary-like feel to his photos, but results could be hard to come by. “Getting a good picture on a set is almost like winning the California Lottery,” he said in a 1992 interview for the International Cinematographers Guild’s Original Heritage series. “You’ve got so many odds against you, it’s almost like a million-to-one shot.”
In 1998, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Operating Cameramen.
After years in television shooting on such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Family Affair and Henry Fonda’s The Smith Family, Hammer segued to his first movie, The McMasters (1970), shot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and starring Burl Ives, Brock Peters and David Carradine.
On another Carradine starrer, Hal Ashby and Haskell Wexler‘s Bound for Glory (1976), he photographed the actor as folk singer Woody Guthrie walking between train tracks from behind with a guitar slung over his back. That iconic shot and some of his other work can be seen here.
In addition to the best picture winner The Deer Hunter and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, both released in 1978, Hammer worked on such other films as Paint Your Wagon (1969), The Outfit (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Raid on Entebbe (1976), Carrie (1976), Burnt Offerings (1976), Sextette (1977), Audrey Rose (1977), The Black Hole (1979), Making Love (1982), Heart Like a Wheel (1983), The Last Starfighter (1984) and A Fine Mess (1986).
Sometimes, he had to deal with temperamental actors.
During a scene on a San Diego pier for Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979), George C. Scott complained that Hammer was in his line of vision. “He stopped and he yelled at me, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the set, and I don’t ever want to see him again,’ ” he recalled. “So they drove me back to the hotel, and I was on the next plane back to L.A. It wasn’t too pleasant.”
He also had a run-in with Tony Randall in front of a live audience on The Odd Couple. The actor heard the click of Hammer’s camera and grabbed him by his camera straps. “I never saw anyone so angry in all my life,” Hammer said. He could have sued but was told that if he did, he would never work in Hollywood again.
Hammer was born in the Bronx on March 6, 1924. His father, Leopold, died when Wynn was 6, and his mother, Regina, remarried.
He came to Los Angeles in 1942 and studied photography under Will Connell downtown at the original ArtCenter. After service in the Army’s Signal Corps in 1945, he returned to school, then spent five years with National Screen Service and nine at Pacific Title and Arts Studio, where he did special effects photography for film-trailer titles.
He was initiated into IATSE Local 659 (now Local 600) in 1955 and landed his first still photography assignment on the 1968-71 NBC drama The Name of the Game.
Hammer went on shoot other series including Green Acres, Nanny and the Professor, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Julia, Police Story, Cannon, Medical Center and The Mod Squad before working primarily on movie sets.
He also photographed Catalina Island advertising brochures for a longtime client, the Wrigley family, then retired in 1990 and raced sailboats.
Survivors include his sons, Loren (and his wife, Liz), Steven (Amy) and Joseph (Sayo) and granddaughter Celeste.